November 2012 | chicago foodie girl

11.28.2012

Chocolate Cake Balls

I've been wanting to try my hand at making cake balls for the last year or so and during my Thanksgiving break, I decided it was finally time to do it. I had the time to devote to actually making them look nice and also extra motivation to do so as I had several events/dinners in which I was slated to bring a dessert. Now, I can make a mean cupcake, an amazing pumpkin loaf, and a ridiculous number of delicious pies and cookies; however, as fabulous as they may taste, they don't always look all that pretty.

So let's just say that while the cake balls I eventually served were gorgeous and delicious, they were a huge pain in the ass because I was so set on making them look a certain way (otherwise, they're super easy to make!). It took multiple batches and a lot of cursing before I finally ended up with enough decent-looking cake balls. I used a mold (similar to the ones found here), which greatly helped with the symmetry and shape; it took me awhile to get the hang of the mold, but once I finally did, there was far less cursing and many more lovely cake balls.

The cake balls were a huge hit with everyone and I look forward to experimenting with some other flavor combinations... they just might not look as nice the next time, as I refuse to ever be so Type A crazy about cake again (and this is exactly why I could never be a pastry chef)! :-)

Chocolate Cake Balls


INGREDIENTS
Chocolate cake: mix or from scratch
Cream cheese frosting: pre-made or from scratch
1-2 packages of chocolate coating bark or microwavable candy melts (milk, dark, and/or white)
Sprinkles for garnish (optional)

DIRECTIONS
1. If using a mix, bake cake according to package; otherwise, make your favorite chocolate cake from scratch. I used Martha Stewart's Chocolate Cake for Cupcake Pops recipe (with King Arthur double dutch dark cocoa).

2. While cake is cooling, make cream cheese frosting (skip this step if you're using canned frosting). I used Martha Stewart's Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting recipe. I would highly recommend making your own frosting even if you use a cake mix. It took about 5 minutes total to make this frosting and it was soooo much better than the canned stuff!

3. After the cake has cooled completely, trim off edges and break up the cake into fine crumbs (you can use your hands or a mixer to break up the cake, but the following step is most easily done by hand!).

4. In a large bowl, combine cake crumbs with the cream cheese frosting. It's easier to mix the two by hand, but as Bakerella warned, it will get messy! Once mixed, it should have a doughy consistency - it should be moist enough to stick together and roll into balls, but not overly wet/tacky.

5. Roll dough into balls and place on a cookie sheet. You can do this by hand, but for consistency with size/shape, use a melon baller or mini ice cream scoop. If you want to get fancy, you can use a mold like I did (there are so many awesome ones available on etsy!). For a larger batch (40-50), keep the balls around 1.5 inches in diameter. Mine were almost 3 inches (per the mold), so I got considerably less out of each batch (approximately 20).

6. Refrigerate for two hours or place in the freezer for 30-45 minutes (chill them all the way through, but don't freeze them).

7. Melt chocolate bark or candy melts in microwave or on stovetop (low heat in a double broiler). I'm not a huge fan of melting chocolate on the stovetop when I'm baking by myself (it's just so messy and way too easy to burn), so I melted Wilton Candy Melts in the microwave. I melted the chocolate in small batches so that I had enough time to coat each cake ball before the chocolate cooled. I also found that the chocolate was a bit too thick; after a quick google search for a remedy, I thinned it out with a few drops of vegetable oil.

8. Roll balls in chocolate & use the back of a spoon to smooth. Lay the cake balls on wax paper until firm. Repeat step 7 if you want to layer chocolate flavors (use a fork dipped in thick chocolate to create the lines). Store in a covered dish for up to a week or freeze (I froze mine & then thawed in the refrigerator for four hours before serving).

*modified recipe based on Bakerella's Red Velvet Cake Balls
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11.19.2012

Meatless Monday: Favorite Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Left: one of the many gorgeous chocolate sculptures made by the French Pasty School chefs
Top Right: my pick for the best wine at the festival
Bottom Right: chocolates from Mayana 

Happy Monday! Unlike some other Mondays, this truly is an exciting one for me, as I only have two days of work and then I'm off for a lovely five day stretch (if only every week could be like this!). I still have a bit of a chocolate hangover from yesterday's adventure at the Chicago Fine Chocolate Show. My friend, Barb, and I spent hours wandering around the show and stuffing ourselves with some really delicious chocolates and chocolate wines. As I mentioned on the CFG facebook page (see more photos over there!), we must have sampled at least twenty types of artisan chocolates and, between the two of us, walked away with approximately thirty more pieces and six bottles of wine. There were so many incredible chocolates, but I think my favorite was the habanero salt truffle from Four Brothers - the combination of the spicy habanero with the salt in a rich dark chocolate blew me away! The chocolates from Mayana were a very close runner up - the Mayan Spice and the Lemon Florentine chocolates were especially amazing for both their unique combinations and complex layers of flavor. As it turns out, Mayana's production site is within twenty minutes of my apartment - I think I might just have to place an order for some awesome Christmas gifts! :-)

As with many of you, I already have Thanksgiving food on the brain. I've never been in charge of a full T-giving dinner and honestly, I prefer it that way. I'm more interested in making various side dishes and desserts; honestly, I can take or leave the turkey.The recipes I'm highlighting today are three of my favorite dishes to take to dinner: Shaved Brussels Sprouts Pasta with Warm Walnut Vinaigrette, Slow Cooker Mashed Maple Sweet Potatoes, and Cranberry Pomegranate Sauce. I did feature the Brussels sprouts dish back shortly after I first started this blog, but I figured it was worth bringing around again, as it's a perfect way to add in some more veggies to the T-giving feast (it was huge hit with my group last year!). The maple sweet potatoes are super easy to make, as all you have to do is throw everything into your slow cooker and then walk away for seven-ish hours (the dish also reheats really well, so you can make it the day before). The cranberry pomegranate sauce is similar to a regular cranberry sauce, but it has a slightly stronger sweet/tart component - it's a perfect condiment for both savory and sweet dishes (I've tried it & loved it over turkey, pork, pancakes, and cheesecake!) or it can be eaten on its own.

As always, Mario and I will be spending the holiday with our adopted family (Barb's family & various friends), and will enjoy a day filled with awesome food, video games, and movies. I hope you all have a wonderful (and delicious) Thanksgiving... I'll see you back here next week! :-)

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11.08.2012

Thirsty Thursday: Pumpkin Pie Martini

As I've mentioned approximately fifty times during the past month, I have a serious love of all things pumpkin. This love includes, but is not limited to, scones, pies, cake pops, stews, chili, breads, muffins, cupcakes, tacos, whoopie pies, granola bars, ice cream, ravioli, coffee, and alcohol. Basically, if it comes in a pumpkin option, I'll try it (and will most likely love it). So it should come as no surprise that one of my favorite drinks is Fulton's Harvest Pumpkin Pie Cream Liqueur.

I was lucky enough to receive a bottle of Fulton's Harvest for my birthday last year and another this year (my friends are awesome!). Up until recently, I was only drinking it straight up (it's so good that it doesn't need to be mixed with anything else), but the moment I came across this Pumpkin Pie Martini recipe on Pinterest (via Pass the Sushi) I knew I had try to it. Guess what? I discovered pure pumpkin heaven. It is *phenomenal*! Seriously, if you're a fan of pumpkin, you must try this drink - make sure you track down some Pumpkin Pie Cream Liqueur soon though as it's only available through November!

Pumpkin Pie Martini


INGREDIENTS:
2 oz spiced rum
4 oz Fulton’s Harvest Pumpkin Pie Cream Liquor
2 oz (or spoonfuls) pumpkin puree 
Dash of pumpkin pie spice
Optional: crushed graham crackers for garnish

DIRECTIONS:
1. In a drink shaker, combine rum, Pumpkin Pie Cream Liqueur, pumpkin puree, pie spice with ice and shake vigorously.

2. Strain into martini glasses lined with graham cracker crumbs (optional).

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11.05.2012

Meatless Monday: Slow Cooker Pumpkin Lentil Stew



Early voting rocks!

Happy Monday! I don't know about you, but it seems like the weeks are flying by at turbo speed. I swear the older I get, the faster the months go by. It seems like just yesterday I was planning for my birthday, but really, we're almost a month past that and already making plans for Christmas. Yikes!

October may be in the rear-view mirror, but pumpkin season is still going strong in my house. While early fall tends to be filled with the sweeter side of pumpkin (doughnuts! scones! cookies!), November is the time in which I switch over to the heartier and healthier pumpkin dishes. November is also the month in which I start my cold-weather-induced cravings for soups, stews, and chili.

Today's Meatless Monday dish, Pumpkin Lentil Stew, is the perfect dish for this time of year. It's a hearty and satisfying stew that smells so amazing as its simmering in the slow cooker (it's almost torturous!). The stew is delicious enough to stand on its own, but it's even better when eaten with a warm chunk of French bread. As a bonus, it's both vegan and gluten-free!

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11.02.2012

Diana's Friday Five: My Go-To Restaurants

*Guest post by chicago foodie girl contributor, Diana

Hey gang!  My "Look and Cook" series suffered a little mishap recently (cauliflower mash, don't ask), so until the next installment, I thought I'd entertain you with some local restaurants that I frequent with my family, Tom and my friends. If you're in town, I encourage you to try them!

There are many local restaurants I really love, but I didn't want to turn this into Diana's Friday Five Hundred, so let's take a trip to Italy, Spain and Greece in this post:

1.  La Gondola
This is my go-to Italian restaurant - great for going with friends, family, date nights, you name it. When people ask me for an Italian restaurant recommendation, this is the place, because holy crap, can they cook!My favorite dish on the appetizer list is the grilled calamari. It is cooked to perfection every single time, never rubbery or chewy like I've had at other restaurants.  he dish also includes artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers and a small salad and everything is drizzled with a lemony vinaigrette that I would drink straight from the bottle if they'd let me.

Look at that appetizer! It's to die for.

                                (photo courtesy of Yelp.com)
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